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My experience with online classes has been both a blessing and a curse. As an immunocompromised person, I’m grateful for the ability to continue my education safely. In the beginning of the pandemic when we were sent home in March of last year, I was very excited to spend more time with family and have a break from the social pressures of life. However, almost one full year into online learning and isolation, it has definitely lost its charm. Nonetheless, I believe that this year has taught some priceless lessons and forced us all to become more creative with how we spend our time.
From a mental health perspective, this academic experience has been extremely tumultuous. It took me a while to settle in after transferring to Pepperdine and just before the pandemic hit I finally felt that I had found my “people” only for it all to be ripped away. Most days I feel very resentful when I think about the college experience we all worked so hard for that we will never get back. However, the eternal optimist inside me is quick to remind me that when we finally do get back on campus, our time with those who we call friends will feel all the more precious. To put it simply, this time has been full of tears, banana bread, resentment, frustration, homemade sourdough, anxiety, neighborhood walks, and disappointment for me.
Academically, I feel as though I’ve learned less than ever. Not because professors or I haven’t been putting in the work, but simply because a human brain can only absorb so much information when sitting in front of a laptop screen for 30+ hours a week. Not to mention the problem of my childhood bedroom suddenly becoming my classroom, sleeping quarters, cafeteria, and gym. The first semester that we were sent home, I had one professor who couldn’t be bothered to transfer class online and simply sent us a weekly email with one essay assignment for the duration of the semester. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve had professors who publish multiple four-hour lectures each week and expect us to view them all with enthusiasm. I think the greatest problems of online learning are burnout and inconsistency. Students and professors are both exhausted from being trapped indoors without social interaction and classroom consistency has never been lower. Most importantly, I know that most students feel ripped off. The online education is simply not worth the $70k price tag. No offense.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is a ton that can be done to improve the experience. Nothing can change the fact that we are trapped behind laptop screens, which doesn’t even come close to the in-person experience. However, the best online classes I’ve taken are those that respect the time of professor and student. One online class I took consistently went over by 20 minutes or more because of a lack of preparation. Second, I think the key to increasing participation is keeping consistent breakout rooms. While randomized breakout rooms are a nice idea, it doesn’t give enough consistency to let students familiarize themselves with one another. My favorite online class kept us in the same discussion breakout rooms throughout the semester, which allowed us to get to know each other in some small way. Finally, I think enthusiasm is more important than ever. Based on our first class, I can already tell that you have much more enthusiasm than most professors. My speech coach always used to say, “if you aren’t excited about what you’re presenting, you can trust that nobody in the audience will be excited either.”
In my communication research methods class we researched the best virtual classroom practices. The research revealed that the best classrooms are those that actively try to reduce “transactional distance”, which is a fancy way of describing how far students feel from their professors and the material. The best ways to reduce this distance are teaching live classes, asking interactive questions, creating time for discussion, and incorporating games like Kahoot to create a sense of togetherness. There is no panacea to the problem of online learning, but I agree that practices like these that aim to create togetherness are a good place to start.
Simone Decker, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: Classes have been on-line for almost a year. Describe your experience. What could be done to make it better? What would you do to increase class engagement? The class covers copyright and social media. Simone is an Advertising major.
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